By Tom Udall Press Office
U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), all members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, denounced the Trump Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to support the full dismantling of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Texas v. United States, which threatens the health care of American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Before enactment of the ACA, American Indians and Alaska Natives were disproportionately uninsured and unable to access basic medical care. The ACA provides critical resources via Medicaid Expansion and the Individual Marketplace to the Indian Health Service (IHS), Tribes, and American Indian and Alaska Native families that increase access essential health care services. The law also includes a number of Tribal-specific provisions and permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), which provides the core statutory authorization for the majority of IHS services and activities.
All six Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs are also original cosponsors of a Senate resolution sponsored by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) calling on the DOJ to reverse its position and protect the benefits of ACA including pre-existing condition protections, elimination of lifetime and annual limits on coverage, free preventive care coverage, and ability to keep children on parents plans up to age 26.
“The Trump Administration has made clear it will stop at nothing to gut the Affordable Care Act and leave millions of Americans – including thousands of families in New Mexico and across Indian Country – without access to health care and protections for pre-existing conditions,” said Udall. “President Trump and the Department of Justice’s decision to support a full repeal of the ACA puts the health and wellbeing of Native families at risk.”
“The Trump Administration’s irresponsible decision to rip health care from millions will have devastating consequences for Montana families, including the many American Indians who qualify for expanded Medicaid or financial assistance to buy coverage. And it puts rural hospitals and community health centers at grave risk of closing their doors to Native American communities who rely on them for quality, affordable care,” said Tester.
“The Affordable Care Act is critical to the stability of the Indian Health Service (IHS), and the health and financial security of nearly all of Indian Country. The ACA has given IHS the ability to cover billions of dollars in health services that tribal members previously were paying out-of-pocket. Repealing the ACA would devastate tribal families and rip essential health services from some of our nation’s most vulnerable populations, rolling back the progress we’ve made. We can’t afford to turn the clock backwards. Instead we must continue to work to fulfill our trust responsibility, come together in a bipartisan way to shore up the ACA and protect Native American, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians’ access to vital health care resources,” said Cortez Masto.
“I believe everyone deserves quality, universal healthcare, and that includes Native American communities.” Smith said. “I will keep standing with them, and all other Americans, to fight against the Trump administration’s reprehensible attacks on vital coverage.”
The Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs began efforts to highlight the devastating consequences ACA repeal would have on Native families and Tribes last Congress.
• On July 18, 2017, the members convened an emergency roundtable to hear directly from Tribal leaders about the importance of the ACA for American Indian and Alaska Native health. Udall then led a group of Senators to speak about the roundtable findings on the Senate floor.
• On July 27, 2017, all seven members of the Committee filed an amendment with Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to protect Indian Country from Senate Republican attempts to repeal the ACA through the budget reconciliation process.
• In March 2019, Udall, Cortez Masto and Tester pressed Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to explain why a number of agencies within HHS removed vital information about Tribal ACA resources from their websites.